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Voluntary Euthanasia Society

  • Voluntary Euthanasia Society
Date
1931-1990
Reference
SA/VES
  • Archives and manuscripts

About this work

Description

The collection comprises the administrative papers of the Society, publicity material, and papers of individuals connected with the Society.

The records do not appear to be complete, although the minutes of the meetings of the Executive Committee of the Society and of its Annual General Meeting run in an unbroken series from 1935 to 1974 (later minutes are retained at the offices of the Society). In this collection the Annual Reports only go up to 1955, the collection of publications does not appear to be exhaustive, and there are numerous gaps in the series of presscuttings. There is very little surviving correspondence from before 1956, although the papers of Dr C. Killick Millard, the founder of the Society and its first Honorary Secretary, which are among those of the Society, include some of his correspondence as Honorary Secretary (but this does not seem to be complete). In 1996, the Society allowed microfilm copies to be made of cuttings files from the 1970s and 1980s (B/21-30). Unfortunately nothing appears to survive from 1982-1987, and only the first of two files for 1990 was found. The original cuttings were destroyed after filming, only one file being retained for exhibition (B/24 - located in Box 14). The gaps may be due to administrative changes within the Society, or may be the results of the move from Leicester to London and between locations in London.

Publication/Creation

1931-1990

Physical description

14 boxes o/s folder and volume 5 boxes, 2 films 2 reels of microfilm

Arrangement

The collection is divided into sections as follows:

A Records of the Society 1935-1974

B Publications and publicity 1931-1990

C Papers of members of the Society:

- C/1-4 C. Killick Millard 1931-1950

- C/5-6 Dr Saul Crown c.1950s-1980s

- C/7 Miss L. Dorling Bone c.1950s-1980s

- C/8-13 Miss Blackett 1955-1970

- C/17 Rev. A.B. Downing c.1957-1971

- C/13 Professor Eliot Slater 1969-1973

- C/16-21 Dr G.C. Bertram 1947-1988

D Files of the Society 1956-1978

Acquisition note

These records were received by the Wellcome Library in January and July 1981 from Nicholas Reed, General Secretary of EXIT, the Society for the Right to Die with Dignity, formerly known as the Voluntary Euthanasia Legalisation Society / the Euthanasia Society / the Voluntary Euthanasia Society (to which last name it has reverted). Further records were collected from the offices of the Society in September 1981. Additional papers relating to the Society were received in February 1992 from Dr G C Bertram as part of Accession no. 412; see SA/VES/C/16-21. In 1996, the Society allowed microfilm copies to be made of cuttings files from the 1970s and 1980s (B/21-30).

Biographical note

The origin of this Society was in the Presidential Address of Dr C Killick Millard (Medical Officer of Health for Leicester) to the Society of Medical Officers of Health in 1931, on 'Voluntary Euthanasia'. His speech received wide publicity and was printed in pamphlet form with an introduction by Sir W. Arbuthnot Lane. As a practical measure Millard advocated the passing of an Act of Parliament to legalise euthanasia on a voluntary basis for the terminally ill, and included the draft of a bill with his paper.

Early in 1935 a small committee was set up on Leicester with C.J. Bond as Chairman and C. Killick Millard as Honorary Secretary. The Voluntary Euthanasia Legalisation Society was formally founded in October 1935 with Lord Moynihan as President, and on 10th December that year the Inaugural Public Meeting was held in London.

In 1936 the first Voluntary Euthanasia (Legalisation) Bill was introduced into Parliament and although it fell on its first reading a good deal of publicity and discussion was generated. The Society gained numbers of distinguished supporters from many fields of endeavour in the arts, sciences, and professions. In 1939 a Public Debate on Euthanasia took place at Caston Hall. In the same year an opinion poll conducted by the British Institute of public Opinion found that 62% of the public were in favour of voluntary euthanasia for the suffering incurably ill. During 1939 C.J. Bond, the first Chairman of the Society, died. By 1941 the membership of the Society was over 1000.

The activities of the Society were severely curtailed by the War. Also to counteract the bad name given to euthanasia by Hitler's policies, the Society found it necessary to issue a statement pointing out that they only advocated euthanasia on a strictly voluntary basis for the already dying.

After the War publicity and propaganda activities were increased in spite of financial difficulties, and potential supporters were canvassed. In 1949 the BBC broadcast a debate on euthanasia. The Society petitioned the United Nations to include the right to voluntary euthanasia in the Declaration of Human Rights. In 1950 voluntary euthanasia was debated in the House of Lords.

In 1952 C. Killick Millard died aged 81, having been the Honorary Secretary of the Society since 1935. In 1954 the offices of the Society moved from Leicester to London, and subsequently to various addresses in London. During the 1950s the Society underwent something of a decline with membership down to about 300. Some publicity was gained through a television programme on the subject in 1957, but in the same year the Society found it impossible to a sponsor in Parliament for their latest Bill. Propaganda was kept up and atempts were made to gain more members and support.

Suicide ceased to be a crime in 1961, but to aid and abet a suicide was still illegal. A further attempt to obtain an Act of Parliament took place in 1969. In the same year a poll by Mass Observation indicated about 51% of the public supported at least in theory the idea of Voluntary Euthanasia and 28% were against it; another poll, by National Opinion Polls, in 1976, showed an increase in support for the idea: 69% for and only 17% against.

The Society was know for a time as EXIT but reverted to its old name of the Voluntary Euthanasia Society and continued to agitate for the right of individuals to a death with dignity and to propagate this controversial subject. In 2006 it changed its name to Dignity in Dying.

Terms of use

This collection has been partially catalogued and the catalogued part is available to library members. Some items have access restrictions which are explained in the item-level catalogue records. Requests to view uncatalogued material are considered on a case by case basis. Please contact collections@wellcomecollection.org for more details.

Appraisal note

Duplicate items have been weeded.

Location of duplicates

Items B/21-30 (Press cuttings 1975-1990) are available only as microfilm, with the exception of B/24 where the original was retained for exhibition purposes (AMS/MF/77-78)

Accruals note

The following is an interim description of material that has been acquired since this collection was catalogued. This description may change when cataloguing takes place in future:

Two transfer boxes of material were received in July 1985 (acc. 211) consisting of some miscellaneous papers relating to the society and Mr Reed's court case.

Four transfer boxes of material were received in October 1995 (acc. 594) consisting of committee minutes, correspondence, newsletters, tape recordings and videos.

22 archive boxes of material were received in March and October 2002 (accs. 1025 and 1090) consisting of administrative material, press cuttings, conferences, publications and material from medical and legal societies and similar organisations from Europe.

Two transfer boxes of material were received in March 2007 (Acc. 1485) consisting of AGM papers, minutes press cuttings, student papers and correspondence from other similar societies.

22 transfer boxes of material were received in April 2016 (Acc. 2275) consisting of press cuttings, publications, minutes, papers relating to name change and branding, reports and reviews, Bills, Committee papers, submissions, AV material and books.

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